October 24, 2015


by Peter Kozak

Since they began collaborating in 2013, Shannon Tonkin and Patrick Zaia (together: Shatrick) have created a range of immersive installations involving performance, sculpture, sound and video that playfully interrogate established relations of power within the hegemonic structures of mainstream religion and consumer capitalism. Some features that can be observed across these works include a celebration of the abject, the rejection of socially prescribed gender roles, and the combined use of hybridisation, saturation and uninhibited juvenile play to disrupt the sensible, rational order of institutional power.
In his essay 'Everything Is Fucked' Paul Yore argues that consumer capitalism relies on a certain conception of the individual and fixity of identity in order to divide us into "consuming subjects" and "objects to be consumed".1 Similarly, in Christian religion there is a strong emphasis on the concept of the individual in order to enable identification with religious figures, such as Jesus Christ, and to support the idea of individual souls being judged upon physical death. An evasion of this process of singular categorization, through strategies such as hybridity, could therefore be seen as a threat to the functioning of these types of systems. Saturation, on the other hand, is a common strategy used by systems of dominance in order for them to expand and achieve critical mass. What makes this practice of saturation into a subversive strategy in Shatrick's work is its combined use with the strategy of hybridity, which remains unabsorbed by consumer capitalism and mainstream religion. An example of this combined use of hybridity and saturation can be seen in extreme form in their most recent exhibition 'The Garden of Shatrick'.
In this work the artists have inserted themselves into the creation narrative of Adam and Eve from the Book of Genesis, placing themselves, as a singular hybridised entity, in place of Adam and Eve. For the viewer the implications are immense - by replacing the first humans on earth with a self-styled hybrid, we all become one of its umbilically-connected offspring. This idea is epitomized in the way one enters the gallery space - through a billowing passageway representing a vaginal canal, which opens into a larger womb-like space where one finds the artists performing together as a symbolic hybrid.
This reworking of the Genesis creation narrative and repositioning of themselves as the basis of humanity could be seen as part of a 'takeover aesthetic' that can be observed in works by other artists, such as Chris Cunningham's music videos for Aphex Twin's 'Come To Daddy' and 'Windowlicker', in which various characters assume the artist's grinning, beardy face. What separates Shatrick's work from these other works, however, is the complete absence of egotism. This is achieved partly through self-mockery, which can also be observed in Cunningham's videos, particularly 'Windowlicker', but is taken further in Shatrick's work in their exhibition of vulnerability and by extending an invitation for viewers to join them as equals in the shared subsumption of the Shatrick identity.
For me, the experience of entering the gallery space on a blustery Brisbane night and finding two naked people with hidden faces clinging to each other was completely empty of the possibilities of an ego-based raison d'être. Instead I was confronted, at least initially, by the display of vulnerability and the slightly-voyeuristic feeling of watching a naked, lip-locked couple sing hauntingly into each other's mouths. However, as I spent more time in the space this feeling of intrusion gave way to one of witnessing a strangely intimate moment of non-sexual fusion between two lovers, whose unembarrassed vulnerability took the weight out of any vulnerability or embarrassment the viewer might have felt being in the same space with them. Devoid of any sinisterness or show-off mentality, the work then became an invitation into their world – a place of joyful experimentation, unhindered by disciplinary power and the conventional expectations of gender.

1. Paul Yore, "Everything Is Fucked; Psychedelia, Queer Identity and Uncertainty in an Antipodean Context", in Das Superpaper, no. 27 (Das Platforms, 2013), 46.